Many Expats look up to me as a kind of land bound, better-dressed version of Christopher Columbus, and have asked for my advice on navigating the choppy and uncharted waters of relations with the Dutch. With tears on their keyboards, they have written to me and asked “Shallow Man, we’ve lived here for years and still have no Dutch friends, why is it so difficult to get to know them on a personal level?”

Indeed many Expats live here in the Netherlands in a kind of social purgatory, trapped between heaven and hell. They can see all of Dutch daily life going on around them, but are not quite involved due to lack of any meaningful friendships with the locals.

Being the selfless person that I am, yet again I will step into the Intercultural breach and this time provide advice on how to befriend the Dutch and reach that desired state of integration Heaven – having Dutch friends. This will no doubt be controversial in some quarters, and yet, like Miley Cyrus at the VMA awards, I will twerk my perfectly formed bottom at my critics, even if it means being locked in a room by angry Dutch people and forced to listen to Andre Hazes’ greatest hits while watching TV shows featuring Linda De Mol. The things I do for my readers!


The two of them have even paired up to bring you this beautifull example of the Dutch music culture

 

Over the years, the Shallow man has wandered through the Dutch wilderness, from Hoorn to Harderwijk, Den Bosch to Zwolle, from Utrecht to Maastricht, and from the Bijlmer to Rotterdam Zuid and has gathered much experience in dealing with our denim-clad, brown-shoe- wearing hosts. Following my wandering in the wilderness, I have returned with the official ‘Guide to making Dutch Friends’.

 

dutch friends

Are you ready? (loldutchpeople/Christel-Pictures)

 

Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me
A common question asked by Dutch people is “What do you think of Holland compared to your own hell -hole –of- a -country -that -is –not- the- Netherlands?” A character trait I admire in the Dutch is the willingness not to allow a complete and utter lack of facts get in the way of a good lecture of the pros and cons of a country they have never lived in. When asked this question, always reply how much you love this country compared to your own, and how much better the quality of life is here; that will immediately score you some despite -being -a -bloody –foreigner- knows -his –or- her- place brownie points.

Doe Effe Normaal
As I’ve posted elsewhere, being smartly dressed, for example wearing black shoes, heels, make up, not wearing denim and taking care of one’s appearance is generally frowned upon. If you dress in a way that is outside the “Normen en Waarden”(i.e. Norms and Values) of Dutch society, you will be labeled as someone who thinks too highly of themselves. If you want to get on, dress as if you are going to pick up some plants from the local garden center. This will make you less suspicious to the locals who will relax and might even involve you in a conversation.

The Language Death Spiral
Here is an interesting conundrum. If you speak Dutch with a local the response you’ll receive will invariably be in English. However, if you speak in English you’ll be asked “How comes you don’t speak Dutch?” Breaking this vicious cycle without causing offence will require the delicate diplomatic skills of a UN negotiator. If your Dutch is good enough, then politely insist on speaking Dutch as you wish to improve your skills. I’ve known fluent Dutch speakers who’ve lived and worked here for years that still get spoken to in English by the locals.

Be persistent and, even if they respond in English, continue speaking Dutch. This should hopefully wear them down and have them speaking with you in their language. The effort you make in speaking Dutch should, with most reasonable people, play in your favor.

For the “How comes you don’t speak Dutch?” question, don’t get defensive. Simply reply that you’ve tried to learn the language but found it too difficult. This will often go down well and give them a warm feeling of superiority and a chance to show off their English skills. Do not under any circumstances tell the truth which is that as hardly any countries of global economic importance speak Dutch, and, since you only plan to stay here for a couple of years, it’s not worth your while to bother learning it.


Speaking of Dutch friends…

 

Transparency
In most countries in the world, the invention commonly known as curtains is still widely used. Here in the Netherlands, with its open society, such things are not regarded as necessary. To befriend the locals, it won’t help if you make sarcastic jokes about looking through people’s windows and watching them eat Frikandel while counting their money due to the lack of curtains. When in conversation with the locals, compliment them on the financial astuteness of not having to waste money on unnecessary dry cleaning.

 

Why Expats Can’t get Dutch Friends

Two views.

View 1:

If you work in one of the larger cities in the Netherlands, such as Amsterdam or Den Hague, you’ll find that most Dutch colleagues who have children will live well outside the city, in smaller towns where housing prices are cheaper. As much bonding and friendship often starts with drinks after work, this often excludes local Dutch colleagues who have to rush off home to their demanding partners, or to collect children from daycare. What then transpires is that the only people who tend to socialize regularly outside work are the expats who often, at least to begin with, are on their own.

View 2

As Dutch people, they already have a circle of (local) friends and don’t want to expand their circle with Expats. The view is often: “ Why should I make new friends when I have them already?”  Some might say that’s a selfish, anti-social and narrow minded point of view, but it’s certainly one I’ve heard mentioned by Dutch colleagues over the years.


Enter the Circle of Death

If you do somehow manage to overcome all of the obstacles mentioned above, you will not only become friends with a Dutch person, but also end up being invited to attend a “Party.” Many cultures have their own ideas of what constitutes a party, but may have never experienced what those of us in- the- know describe as the Circle of Death. This is a slightly surreal experience. A group of Dutch people will sit together in a circle. Alcohol is often not served. Hapjes (tiny hors d’oeuvre), small bites of bitterballen, cubes of cheese and that exotic delicacy- crisps in a bowl- are provided.

dutch circle party dutch friends

‘The party finally took off when grandma took her sweater off’ (Flickr/Underdutchskies)

The gathering then sit together and talk, with much use of the word “Gezellig” coming into play. It’s an interesting experience to say the least. If you experience this, then you’ve arrived and have a genuine Dutch friend.

 

Summary

There’s an old saying that I firmly believe in: “I would never want to join a club that doesn’t want me as a member.” This is particularly true when it comes to making friends, regardless of the nationality. There has been a nationalistic movement in this country of which Geert Wilders is now the flagbearer.

The doctrine spouted by these people is that foreigners who live here should want to be Dutch, in other words resistance is futile and assimilation is the only option. It was a strange mentality that believes, when you move to another country, you should strip away your national identity and want to be something else, and become a cardboard cut out Dutch person that doesn’t really exist. This may seem strange, because integration does not mean assimilation.

Assimilation Dutch friends

Assimilation is futile. You shall eat Hutspot. (Source: pdxbkreview.wordpress.com)

Thankfully such views are held by a relatively small (I hope) subset of people in the Netherlands. By and large, I’ve found the Dutch to be pretty open minded, fair and friendly people. It is difficult to make friends with them and I would say that they are actually less open than for example the Germans and even the French, but that’s just my personal experience.

People should accept you for who you are. If they don’t want to be friends with me because I’m not from some small village in the Netherlands, so be it. I’ve made some good friendships with Dutch people and we’ve bridged the language gap without much of a problem. Keep an open and positive mind and only good things can come of it. This is a wonderful country and I’m happy to be here, and to people who can’t appreciate the value of a friendship with someone as they are not from the Netherlands I say:  Hou right Op!

 

*No Dutch nationalists were hurt during the writing of this article.

 

  • Pim

    There’s a thin line between humour and bitter sarcasm. I guess you crossed it here.

    • Johnny English

      Pim these articles are written from an expat perspective, clearly your wafer thin line of satirical understanding was crossed in this particular instance, but mine certainly was not.. ‘Shallow man’ ( google the definition of ‘shallow’ btw ) also made it quite clear how “wonderful” & gezellig he believes your country to be ( as i do too ) Perhaps to truly appreciate how amusingly observant these comedic ‘generalisations’ are, you would need to be armed with a reasonable sense of humour AND be a long term expat in NL yourself, which clearly you are not.. even the proudest most over-sensitive Nederlander would probably make similar observations with regard to other european countries/cultures had he/she spent a decade attempting to befriend the locals.. To find this article genuinely ‘bitter’ you are almost conceding that it hit an orange nerve within you.. for it to have hit that nerve would imply that you somehow acknowledge the accuracy of the observations themselves..

      • Dik

        If he is a real dutchman (his name is Pim.. so that should say enough) he was sarcastic. I thought the guide was a genuinely funny. Although I think Dutch people are open (at least more then the french).

      • Pim

        Try to look at Stuff Dutch People Like. They write stories that are funny to read for expats as well as Dutchies. Simon could learn something from that.

        • katee

          The problem with SDPL is that the foreigners know the author means what she writes (you know, in a bad way…) while the Dutch people on that site think: “oh yes its so accurate and so cool/cute/superior/fill in anything else positive.” For example, Pim, when you are reading about how Dutch people are direct, you probably think that’s cool, while the author (and all the other expats with her) think it’s not. With Shallow Man, there’s no question about what he means.

  • Engin Kurutepe

    Doesn’t that quote go “I Don’t Want to Belong to Any Club That Will Accept Me as a Member”? http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/04/18/groucho-resigns/

    • Simon Woolcot

      Spot on Engin, I’ve adapted ti for my own purposes 🙂

  • Frank Kool

    Haha, that was a great read! It’s been years since I’ve been able to even chuckle at something from ‘Friends’, but that video made my day. 😛
    And thanks for the reference to my article about Dutch musicians, appreciated!

  • Javier

    Is not that complicated. In any country, people need your smile to be able to smile back…

  • elinmigrante

    Excellent tips! This article is pretty funny, it makes you laugh while crying at the cruel reality ;). I have straggled to make friends in this country, not so much because of them but me. I should have been more open and not so negative. I am now coming out of my shell, and these tips will be followed. Thank you for your advice!

  • K. J. Keller

    Ahhh…Shallow Man, you do have a talent for sarcastic humor. Having lived here 13 years and assimilating to most of these cultural quirks, I laughed out loud on, especially, the ‘Circle of Death’. On behalf iof my husband and his heritage (though he knows I will fake a headache to get out of going to ‘gatherings’) the under 40 crowd are replacing cheese cubes with wraps and deleting the unhealthy fried food ‘rondje’ …. the circle has been split into 2-3 smaller circles. As for making friends, reminds me of a New Yorker moving to a Texas farm town population of 38 friends who can’t work the new guy into their circle. Thx for starting my day with a smile..K

  • mydogbitjesus

    Good post! I’ve been banging my head against the wall here for almost 3 years. My GF (soon to be ex) is Dutch.
    I’ve never got past stage one pleasantries with any of her social circle of friends, and I’ve not been able to make a single Dutch friend outside that circle!
    I’ve lived in many places around the world and always made even a few friends. Not here, and I’ve racked my brains to think why.
    The whole Dutch club and your points about ‘cardboard cutout’ dutch ring very true.
    Anyway… I don’t have time for this s**t, so I’m going somewhere that isn’t so closed minded and doesn’t have the small nation nationalistic siege mentality of the NL.

    • Hannah

      Shame!!! You sound like I did a few months ago. Take it easy. Honestly, it gets better. It really does.

    • Richard

      Maybe it’s that attitude that explains the lack of friends..

  • NormaR

    I’m Dutch and those obligatory circle parties are often awful for Dutch people too. I’ve just been to one. Birthday of my cousin. Big livingroom mostly filled with people I don’t know sitting too far apart. Table in the middle with (thank God) lots of good an abundant food. The hostess constantly being in the kitchen (and not wanting any help). Maybe some of you observed that, at some point, people flee to the kitchen where the atmosphere usually becomes a lot more ‘gezellig’.

  • GeertForMinisterpresident.

    ”No Dutch nationalists were hurt during the writing of this article”

    Hmmm………………………………..

    • :D

      Pim was

  • Hannah

    Excellent article!!! Spot on!!! Soooooooooooooooooo true!!!

  • Jason

    Sometimes the truth hurts. I watched an episode of Het Klokhuis the other day that was making fun of how an American women kept bragging about how everything is bigger in AMERICA. As offended as I was, I am also of guilty of acting a bit like that.

  • katee

    You’ve bridged the language gap? You mean: your Dutch friends accepted you’re not speaking Dutch so when you get together you all speak English? 😉

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  • Angela

    I have managed to make friends with the Dutch and as with most places I have lived it does take some work. I had to put time into it. I have to admit, I always do most of the rules mentioned above, but some of it is true. I do enjoy the quality of life here, except the weather. But when it comes to language… well I just let them say how difficult the language is and feel sorry for me lol. I know Dutch fairly well, but I can not speak it with out a heavy accent, and that part is hard for me. I can honestly say the time I put into making friends with the Dutch is well worth my effort. I love them and they are great friends. I do not mind the circle parties, because I feel honoured and happy to be invited. After all I wanted Dutch friends!

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  • Blend In

    Nice article! In the same vein , here is one for those who are confused about sticking to own group or the internationals … http://bit.ly/17n4cuP

  • Amen

    8 years in NL, dozens of life lasting international friendships, zero record of a dutch one, seeking the day to finally leave these critics averse cold blooded cheese cubes..

  • Diana Jonkman

    I agree with the thing you said about beeing difficult to make dutch friends here. I’m Colombian living already 3 years in The Netherlands and I got not one friend that is dutch. It’s just very difficult. Here, in Holland people do the things in a different way and besides that, the language makes relation ships more difficult. Sometimes I got the feeling that they just don’t trust me. It’s weird! Anyways, I keep going on.
    Good article by the way 😉

    • Ai

      I honestly think it’s not that hard to make Dutch friends, as long as you’re a student that is. There are many organisations that allow for local Dutchies to meet up with international students. I’d also recommend joining a team-sport (like for example lacrosse, there are also lacrosse teams who allow non-students to join) University students tend to be relatively open minded, are willing to make new friends and they do know how what a real party looks like 😉